The trial that pitted Occupy Wall Street (OWS) against Trinity Wall Street ended on June 18, with Judge Matthew Sciarrino ruling that all eight defendants were guilty of misdemeanor trespassing. In addition, defendant Mark Adams was found guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted possession of burglary tools. Adams was sentenced to 45 days in jail to be served on Rikers Island and was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. The other seven defendants were given four days community service and forced to pay a $200 mandatory court surcharge.
The D17 ruling was the first conviction of Occupy activists the district attorney (DA) has won – although a press release touts the conviction of anti-stop-and-frisk activists at an action endorsed by OWS – and Adams’ sentence is the longest that an Occupier has had to face so far.
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Though the defense team had been bracing for a guilty verdict and Adams knew he was facing possible jail time, the sentence of 45 days struck many as over the top, especially since the DA’s office only recommended 30 days. “The judge imposed an extraordinarily harsh sentence of 45 days,” said defense attorney Martin Stolar. “It’s very unusual to find a judge that imposes a sentence higher than the prosecution asked for.”
Over the six days of proceedings, the court has been packed with supporters of the defendants, especially for Adams, because of the extra charges he faced. Friends of his threw a party in his honor on Thursday, June 14, which was at the time the presumed night before the verdict would be rendered. Though it wasn’t a surprise party, Adams showed up later than expected. When he walked into the space, he stopped and said quietly, “There’s so many people.”
There were audible gasps when Judge Sciarrino read Adams’ sentence, as well as when he was led from the court, handcuffed, wearing the red “World of Outlaws” jacket he had worn every day for the trial. Later in the evening of June 18, Occupy held a solidarity march in support of Adams, who Bishop Packard referred to as “a gentle soul.”
“They had to make an example of someone in order to justify the amount of time they’ve spent on this [case],” said Occupy organizer Tom Hintze outside the courthouse. “And who better to lock up than a person of color with few ties to the city? These are the kinds of people the legal system targets.”
Defense attorney Gideon Oliver said he was upset at the way the DA “went after [Mark],” and said it seemed to him that they were “absolutely” trying to make an example of someone.
Adam’s attorney, Meghan Maurus, described the sentence as “excessive.” She reiterated that it was his first criminal conviction and that it was protest related so there was “no need for deterrence in this case.”
In arriving at his ruling, Judge Sciarrino characterized the respect of property rights as equally fundamental to the founding of the country as First Amendment rights. The ruling hasn’t been made available yet, but notes taken in court read the judge’s statement as:
“This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”
Elena Cohen, a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy, who has assisted in numerous Occupy defense cases, vigorously disputed that claim outside the courtroom. “The idea that the United States of America was founded on private property [rights] is a contested idea. The idea that the United States was founded on freedom of speech is a core, basic idea, and it is inaccurate in any sense to say the United States was as founded upon private property [rights] as it was free speech.”
After the verdict was announced but before sentencing, each defendant was given an opportunity to address the court. Most did not, but Bishop George Packard read from a prepared statement that offered blistering criticism of Trinity Wall Street, the entity that encapsulates Trinity Church and their real estate division. It read, in part,
“… [M]y great sadness today has nothing to do with the law, its fairness, or even an economic system favoring the few at the expense of the many. It has to do with how Trinity Church has chosen to hop back and forth between being the aggrieved and trespassed party on the one hand and the sympathetic ear and support for those who deserve a message of mercy and forgiveness on the other. Is it a corporation worried about fiduciary interest or a portion of the Body of Christ?”
Judge Sciarrino then sentenced him to four days community service, noting that Bishop Packard had performed far more than four days of community service in his life.
In the defense’s closing, attorney Paul Mills argued that trespassing was impossible because of the “open to the public” sign on the fence surrounding Duarte Square. He called the decision to go over the fence a “symbolic act,” not a criminal act, meant to protest against “arrogance and privilege and evil.” He said that if the only way to draw attention to one’s political agenda was to sit quietly and spend a lot of money, “this is no longer a democracy; it is a money-ocracy.”
The prosecution’s closing remarks put forward a simple argument, namely, that no reasonable person could conclude that Duarte Square was open to the public on December 17, surrounded as it was by an eight-foot fence. The DA agreed in part with Mills’ characterization of D17. “They entered [the square] to draw attention to their cause,” Assistant DA Lee Langston said. “And now they will be held accountable.”
In an unexpected turn of events, around 11 AM on Monday, June 18, this correspondent was issued a surprise subpoena by the DA that would have compelled testimony to authenticate a previously unearthed piece of evidence. Judge Sciarrino ultimately denied the DA’s motion to call this reporter to the stand after defense attorney Mills objected, and that was the end of the matter.
For his part, Bishop Packard bristled at the very idea that a church would enforce trespassing regulations at all. “I have been a priest for 45 years,” Packard said outside the courthouse. “I’ve never heard the term ‘no trespassing’ used in relationship with anything having to do with church property.”